Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Nick Lyskawa
Chicago Screenplay Awards Questionnaire
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
1. What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?
a. My name is Nick Lyskawa. I was born in Plymouth, Michigan in 2002 but moved to Pleasant Ridge, Michigan for the majority of my childhood. I have multiple hobbies, some being reading, watching and making movies, playing basketball, etc.
2. Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?
a. My short screenplay has strong inspiration from Reservoir Dogs, but that wasn’t the initial goal. I wanted to write an ensemble piece to experiment with conflicting personalities, and practice writing characters with their own unique voice. I usually write in the thriller/action genre while still enjoying the dialogue that comes with grounded dramas, and I wanted to blend all of these interests and desires. I spent around two months bringing this idea to its final form, with most of that time spent fleshing out the characters to create as much interesting conflict between the group as possible.
3. From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?
a. I am a strong believer in structure and preparation. I write down everything, from variations on the original concept to any idea I have in the middle of writing. Something is very tangible about writing all ideas in a notebook, and is incredibly helpful when coming up with new ideas or rewriting. I start with the concept, where I simply write down a web of ideas, making sure to push every concept one step further to try and ensure originality. Then it’s characters, where I determine their want, need, truth, lie, traits, and beliefs. The beliefs of the characters guide the story, and their traits frame how they act, so this step is crucial. After I’ve spent time working with the characters, I go into the story structure, where I frequently reference Dan Harmon’s story circle and the novel Into the Woods by John Yorke. After writing out the general beats, I begin the writing process. I usually try to get the first draft out quickly, there’s no need to be perfect, but I still put in an effort to be as quality as possible. After the first draft I go into the rewriting process, where I analyze the structure of the film, the underlying philosophical conflict, scene structure, quality of dialogue, etc. After continuous rewriting I try to get feedback from other writers that I trust, and from there I take their feedback into account until I feel the script is in its best form.
4. When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?
a. I took my first film studies class in my sophomore year of high school, but didn’t start writing until freshman year of college. After I watched Interstellar for the first time I became intrigued with the inner machinations of telling a story, which blossomed into a passion that motivates my writing today.
5. Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?
a. I have a multitude of influences and inspirations from across the cinematic landscape. The two genres I enjoy most are thrillers and family dramas, which often exist separate from each other. In terms of thrillers/mystery, I often turn to the works of Martin Scorcesse, Bong Joon-Ho, and David Fincher. I especially appreciate Joon-Ho’s work because of how well he develops the themes of his stories through repeating elements, whether that be tangible symbols or shot composition. His films are a masterclass of thematic development by utilizing all elements of a film, from cinematography to screenwriting. I also reference the screenplay of what I believe to be one of the greatest thrillers of our time, Collateral. In terms of family dramas and more personal conflicts, I often find myself returning to movies and scripts created by Noah Baumbach and Spike Jonze. Both directors/writers write dialogue that is simple in presentation and rich with subtext. They are both masters of dialogue, and their writing heavily inspires my own.
6. Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?
a. I have been obsessed with more than a few of both, but I’ll keep it brief. The first film I became obsessed with was Spike Jonze’s Her. At that point of my life I had never experienced a film that made me experience such strong emotions. It was a lesson in how movies can engage the audience through a compelling story, and what I have learned from that film sticks with me today. The first show I found myself obsessed with was Breaking Bad for its excellent dialogue and near flawless pacing, but at the moment, I believe the anime Attack on Titan may be even more exhilarating than Breaking Bad. The anime is a masterclass of pacing, and I finished nearly three seasons in only a week.
7. What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?
a. Although picking one moment to be my favorite throughout all of cinema history is difficult, one immediately comes to mind, that being the “What’s Up Danger” scene from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.This is my favorite film at the moment, and even hearing the song that plays throughout the scene is enough to give me goosebumps. The scene is electric, satisfying, emotional, filled with motifs, animated beautifully, and is a pivotal moment for the main character Miles Morales. I cannot recommend this movie enough for this scene alone.
8. Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?
a. One of my favorite characters is Jake Lamotta from Raging Bull. I love a heavily flawed protagonist, and Jake Lamotta fits that bill perfectly. He is a complex and flawed figure yet filled with nuanced emotion. It’s amazing how the film depicts a man so broken, so filled with rage, and manages to end with the audience almost feeling sorry for him. I enjoy characters that are not clearly good or evil, and although Jake is certainly more evil, his layered descent is incredible to watch.
9. If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?
a. If I could talk with anyone in film history it would have to be Akira Kurosawa. Besides being one of the greatest directors of all time and creating films that changed the course of filmmaking, he is a personal inspiration of mine. I would ask him about his filmmaking process, from pre to post production, to try and learn as much about filmmaking from a true master of the craft. However, I would probably ask more questions related to storytelling, as Kurosawa has made gigantic films that still feel personal. I would ask him how he balances his characters, how he plans a story, how he generates his ideas, and his methodology for writing a successful script with quality dialogue and themes.